Questions surface over effects of chemical in some ski waxes | TahoeDailyTribune.com

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Questions surface over effects of chemical in some ski waxes

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily TribuneShoreline Ski & Sports technician Dan Sammons displays fluoro wax, which contains a chemical that's causing concern.

A group of man-made chemicals used in some ski waxes, and found in nearly every American’s bloodstream, has caused some companies to take a closer look at what goes on the bottom of skis and snowboards.

Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are found in a wide range of household products from Teflon to GORE-TEX, as well as fluorinated ski wax.

The wax is known for its high performance on the slopes, but sliding down a mountain on fluorinated wax could have larger ramifications.

Two studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2007 found PFCs in the bloodstream of 98 percent of the U.S. population.

But how they got there is a mystery.

“How people can be exposed to PFCs is yet unclear,” according to a CDC report in August. “Some PFCs persist in the environment, and people might be exposed by consuming PFC-contaminated water or food or by using commercial products that contain PFCs.”

Health effects of PFCs also remain uncertain, according to the report, which encourages further research on the subject.

Because of the widespread use of PFCs, the total amount of the chemicals in the environment from fluorinated ski wax is likely very small. But the wax’s connection to the Sierra snowpack – relied upon by millions of Californians and Nevadans for water – makes the substance unique.

Relatively small amounts of PFC from ski wax and the chemicals’ “water-hating” nature make them unlikely to persist in the water supply, according to Bruce Warden, an environmental scientist with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“There could conceivably be small particles in the environment,” Warden said. “The amounts I don’t think would be very large.”

PFCs have not been found during groundwater monitoring conducted by the agency.

Fluorinated wax would be more likely to stick to soil or plants as the snow melts and water runs downstream, Warden said.

Still, concerns over the effect of the chemical components of ski waxes on groundwater have caused a few companies to produce wax without the chemicals popular throughout the industry, including Enviro Mountain Sports Inc., based in Albuquerque, N.M.

The company estimates there is a potential for 2.8 million pounds of chemicals from ski and snowboard wax to be deposited in mountain ecosystems during the 2007-08 winter season.

The company touts its all-natural wax as a better for the environment, while keeping skiers and snowboarders gliding smoothly.

“It has been developed by a group of outstanding biochemists, tested and retested by countless skiers and snowboarders across the country, and has slickness coefficients that match or exceed the toxic chemical waxes on the market today,” the company’s chief executive officer, Greg Barker, said in a statement.

Much of the most recent debate surrounding PFCs in drinking water has surrounded a Minnesota landfill where legally disposed PFCs from the 3M corporation leaked into groundwater.

Although the company claims numerous studies have shown no ill health effects from the level of PFCs in the environment, more than 1,000 residents have claimed in a pending lawsuit that the chemicals are the cause of various ailments, including cancer, according to an article in the St. Croix Valley-based Stillwater Gazette.